POLITICS: More than £250 million for drug deaths emergency

 Sturgeon promises long term cash fix for drug deaths …

Rough sleepers, alcoholics and drug addicts gather on a green space near the Scottish Parliament for an early morning ‘brightener’. Picture by Bill Heaney

By Bill Heaney

An additional £50 million will be allocated every year for the next five years to improve and increase services for people affected by drug addiction.

Talks have been taking place with people with lived experience, a range of organisations and the Drug Deaths Taskforce following the publication in December of statistics which showed that in 2019 there were 1,264 drug related deaths in Scotland.

In a statement to Parliament, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, pictured right, said a national mission was needed to turn things around.

She outlined a number of areas where improvements will be made and a further £5 million is being allocated in this financial year to ensure work starts immediately. These actions include:

  • substantially increasing the number of residential rehabilitation beds across the country
  • reducing stigma and increasing the number of people in treatment for their addiction  
  • allocating funding directly to Alcohol and Drug Partnerships, third sector and grassroots organisations to improve  work in communities
  • widening the distribution of naloxone
  • implementing new standards for medicine-assisted treatment to ensure equitable services for all drug users
  • reassessing how overdose prevention facilities might be established despite legal barriers

The First Minister said:  “Anyone who ends up losing their life as a result of drug addiction, is not just failed at the time of their death – in most cases, they will have been failed repeatedly throughout their whole life.

“I believe that if we have the will, we can and we will find the ways to stop this happening.

“Doing so requires a national mission to end what is currently a national disgrace.

“It is a reasonable criticism to say that this government should have done more earlier, and I accept that.

“But I am determined that we will provide this national mission with the leadership, focus, and resources that it needs.”

Late last year the First Minister sacked the Minister with responsibility for drugs, Joe FitzPatrick, and replaced him on the Scottish Cabinet with Anglela Constance, who has previously worked in the Scottish Prison Service.

Scottish Labour interim leader Jackie Baillie has welcomed the announcement of new funding to tackle Scotland’s drugs crisis, but has challenged the First Minister over cuts to Alcohol and Drug partnerships during her time as First Minister.

Speaking in the chamber, Dumbarton MSP  Jackie Baillie, left,  said: “ It is tragic that it has come to this, and I welcome her acknowledgement that more needed to be done beforehand.

“As Health Secretary she presided over the Road to Recovery strategy which the Scottish Drugs Forum described as a significant contributory factor to our present situation. And when the Scottish Government cut the budgets of Alcohol and Drugs Partnerships they were warned that it would lead to more deaths: now there are 1200 deaths in a single year.

“So, I very much welcome the additional funding. The existing £20 million a year for additional treatment and support services runs out in 2021. So, can the First Minister advise whether the £50 million she has announced is in addition to the existing £20 million, or is this £30 million extra?

“And in terms of outcomes, what has assessment has been made on the impact of reducing deaths?”

After questioning the First Minister following her statement on drugs policy, Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, pictured right, said:  “Scottish Liberal Democrats have been pleading with the Scottish Government to undertake a number of the actions announced today, particularly since its disastrous 22% cut to drug partnership budgets in 2016. 

“A policy reset by this government is long-overdue. We’ve known for a long time what needs done to prevent deaths.

“On safe consumption rooms, our correspondence with the Lord Advocate shows the law isn’t black and white and I’m convinced there is more the government can do. People intervening to save lives shouldn’t be forced to work in fear of prosecution.

“The First Minister says she is looking to international evidence, so she should immediately accept the principle that people who are caught in possession for personal use shouldn’t be sent to prison, and that treatment and education is instead the answer. The Scottish Government should also look again at the Portuguese model of decriminalisation.”

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